Bond. James Bond. Fewer names in popular fiction evoke the same imagery as the famous British secret agent. For over fifty years since his inception by Ian Fleming, James Bond has thrilled audiences with his particular brand of action and adventure. He is one of the most enduring characters to emerge from 20th century fiction. However, since he made the leap from paperback to celluloid, there have been many different interpretations of the character, often with mixed results. The first two films Dr. No and From Russia With Love most closely resemble the Bond as Fleming intended: one part international detective and one part brooding hit man, served with charm and shaken over ice. The James Bond of the books and early films bears little resemblance to the 70s disco Bond as portrayed by Roger Moore, or the politically correct pretty boy in Pierce Brosnan.
It is for these reasons that this collection of original comic strips by Ian Fleming, with art by John McLusky and Yaroslav Horak, is so very refreshing. These strips were published beginning in 1958 in the Daily Express, a daily British tabloid that specifically approached Fleming to adapt the novels into comic form. They are faithful re-tellings of the novels laid out sequentially, and do little to further expand the source material. Each story arc takes place across an average of 200 panels.
What is remarkable about the earliest of these strips is that this is Bond visualized before the image of him from the movies had saturated the public consciousness. In essence, here we are seeing James Bond for the first time, panel by panel, story by story. To imagine James Bond today is to instantly think of the films, and usually the most recent ones. Here, between the covers, we have original content and original illustration. Only the later stories exist in the same time frame as the films, and these strips no doubt would make excellent storyboards for any Bond production. It seems no coincidence some of the panels appear to curiously echo Sir Ken Adam’s famous production designs.
This collection is impressive, including some of Fleming’s strongest work. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, The Spy Who Loved Me, and The Hildebrand Rarity, to name a few. The omnibus starts off with a bang. OHMSS is one of Fleming’s most compelling Bond novels. It is both full of action and intrigue, as well as depth of character. Although the dialog is punchy and clever, with excellent descriptions, it is the art that really pulls the reader in, giving meaning to Bond’s world.
The illustrations in this collection are split between John McLusky and Yaroslav Horak. Horak taking over for Mclusky in 1966. McLusky’s art seems to be more a blend of minimalist style and realism, whereas illustrations by Horak seem to draw a world of bold contrasts, and more comic characterizations. In a way, it is a shame to see the stories presented in the black and white form of a daily comic. One wonders what could have been accomplished with more innovative panel structure and coloring. That being said, the beautiful black and white panels lend a noir credibility to the whole series, letting one’s imagination color the creative gaps.
To read this Omnibus is to gain entry into a dated world. It is a different time with different technology and social customs at play. This is good for readers who like a period piece. It is easy to see where Mad Men’s Don Draper takes his style. However, some audiences may require the quicker pace of a modern Bond, and often dark and biting dialog doesn’t make up for the slow pace at which a daily comic meanders along. If James Bond were to move this slowly in real life he would be dead. Still, if one is a fan of James Bond there is little to complain about here, other than the creatively anemic cover art that does little justice to the cool illustrations within; not much about a print model holding a gold painted prop gun evokes the lush imaginative scenes that James Bond is known for. Overall, Titan’s James Bond Omnibus 002 is a solid compilation, skillfully selected and adapted by Henry Gammidge and Jim Lawrence. For all its authenticity and grit and style, it’s easy to see that the real success of this compilation is that of any good Bond adventure – it leaves you wanting more.
This article was written by guest journalist, Justin Turnblom. A copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review. For more from Titan Books, click here.
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